One of the first challenges to overcome when dealing with California probate laws is the fact that California is a community property state when it comes to marriage and divorce. When a spouse dies, state law dictates that their property should become the property of their surviving spouse. However, this only applies to what would qualify as community property while the spouse was alive. Anything that qualifies as community property would go to the surviving spouse, while all of the deceased spouse’s separate property would undergo the process of intestate succession.
Another common problem with intestate succession is that when a person dies without a will, someone needs to assume responsibility for managing their property and affairs until probate begins. Typically, a will names the personal representative. This is the person who will act on behalf of the writer of the will upon their death. When there is no will, it’s easy for a family to begin arguing over who should have the responsibility of acting as the deceased’s personal representative. If no one person can assume this task without objection from other family members, it will likely fall to the California probate court to appoint a personal representative for the deceased.
Estate debt administration may also complicate intestate succession proceedings. If a deceased individual left behind debts, state law typically dictates those debts must be paid from the deceased’s estate. However, if the deceased held any debt jointly with a spouse or other relative, that individual would assume responsibility for the debt.
Perhaps one of the most troubling parts of the intestate succession process in California is that without a will, major decisions concerning the estate of a deceased individual rest in the hands of the court, not the family of the deceased. Avoiding intestacy is one of the most important benefits of developing a detailed will sooner rather than later.